Posts Tagged ‘Interrogations at Noon’

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Modern Language Association Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I heard the award-winning poet Dana Gioia give a poetry reading. He read poems from his well-known collections Daily Horoscope and Interrogations at Noon as well as new poems. These are some of the lines he read:

“I found my via dolorosa in your love.” – “Prophecy”

“The humble shall find resurrection
and the dead shall lie down with the dead.” – “The Archbishop”

“You know what I bring:
now, I am here,” – “Vampire’s Love Song”

“I look for you among the brightly colored crowds …
where are you, my fugitive?” – “Shopping”

“We had the luck of having been in love but never lovers.
What more could I have wanted from that day?” – “The Apple Orchard”

“The only purpose of desire
is to explore its infinite unfolding”

“What does destiny require us to renounce?”

After his performance, Dana Gioia spoke with the audience about his own poetry and the purpose of poetry in general. He said, “The study of literature is not a luxury. We help the young achieve the fullness of their humanity by it.” He also said that the American marketplace should determine prices, not values, and he asked the question, “What things are beyond price?” This, I believe, is an important question to meditate upon because the answer shapes our lives.

Jane Beal

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We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm —
A gesture you didn’t explain —
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn’t speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening’s memory
Return with this night’s storm —
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

Dana Gioia
Interrogations at Noon (2001)

Commentary: My friend Melody told me that this was the poem that made her fall in love with poetry. Melody knows why. As for me, when she told me that it was a Dana Gioia poem that made her fall, I was delighted because I remembered meeting him once in California.

He came to give a poetry reading at UC Davis. He recites all of his poems from memory. His performance is beautiful to behold. He recited one of Shakespeare’s love sonnets, too, to my friend Jen Hoofard, which delighted her. But the poem I remember best from that reading was the one about his little boy who died and is buried under a redwood tree.

Later I went out to coffee with him and a few others at a little place called Mishka’s. I think it was Mishka’s. We talked about Washington, DC and Dante’s Florence in Italy, among other things.

When he said goodbye, he kissed me on the cheek, a good Italian arrivederci. Utterly charming. I seriously doubt he would remember this, given that he became the director of the NEA afterwards, and was consequently quite busy. But I remember it.

That’s what counts.

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